Everybody’s smoking habit is their own, even though every smoker shares some very common characteristics. But, individual physiology and chemistry, genetics, social pressures and environmental cues all influence an individual’s smoking pattern. I once treated a patient who told me he could never even think about quitting smoking. He thought this because his mom and dad were lifelong smokers who were unable to successfully quit, in spite of numerous quit attempts. He felt he was doomed to become a lifelong smoker as well.
Many smokers feel this way. They may focus in on a single reason as to why they cannot quit, rather than finding bigger and more important reasons to quit. My patient could have taken the approach that it was more important to break the cycle of smoking in his family, before his kids followed in his footsteps.
This thought process is at the root of so many failed attempts. People in general, make life decisions based on their own personal experiences or observations. It can be said that someone who smokes, only knows how to view life as a smoker. If they are one of the 85% of Americans addicted to nicotine, then they have likely gone out of their normal behavior patterns to accommodate that addiction. In fact, their primary coping mechanism is to light up another cigarette. As a counselor told me one time, “normal people don’t do that.” His point was, a person cannot use their coping mechanism if their coping mechanism is what they’re addicted to. The vast majority of smokers are simply ill-equipped to handle the adversity associated with stopping on their own. This is evidenced by the very low success rate (3 – 5.5%) seen with quitting cold turkey.
The alternative is to get some help. Most of us are taught from childhood to be independent and self-reliant. If given the choice between asking for assistance or figuring it out on our own, most of us, would choose to go at it on our own. We’d rather fail than lose face. It’s not surprising then, that relatively few smokers will consistently participate in a behavioral therapy or group counseling program (less than 5%). These types of programs have been studied for years and years and consistently average a 20% success rate. That’s nearly a six-fold improvement over cold turkey. Yet, the stigma of “counseling” will prevent people from drastically changing their lives for the better. Others fear the cost of such a program may break their bank. However, the cost data clearly show that group sessions are the single most cost-effective smoking cessation intervention available. This figures in the dramatic success rate, which then incorporates the cost-avoidance associated with no longer purchasing the tobacco products over the remaining expected lifetime of the former smoker.
The key elements of a successful behavioral program include an assessment of the stages of change, identification of a person’s barriers to quitting, as well as, the development of a tailored cessation program for the individual and a plan to address relapse prevention. Frequently, the designed smoking cessation plan will incorporate the use of pharmaceutical stop smoking aids. Interestingly, the drug companies have taken notice and many now offer a patient-support program with their smoking cessation products.
I know, smokers stop on their own all the time. Many even stay smoke-free for a lifetime after quitting cold turkey. However, many, many more quit when they get a little help. Do yourself and everyone around you a favor and follow their success stories. Enroll in a smoking cessation program or seek professional advice. It may cost you more than a few dollars if you don’t.